Cummings Centre: Making social connections an antidote for loneliness, and your health

Some members of the very active Cummings Centre Travel Club.

Touching the lives of 10,000 people on an annual basis through its main campus location and four off-site locations in Montreal including Florida, the Cummings Centre is a non-profit, community organization that offers a full continuum of life-long learning and fitness programs to the 50-plus community in Montreal.  

The Cummings Centre is also uniquely positioned to address loneliness and social isolation through its extensive program offering and volunteer opportunities. The Centre brings people together on every level to engage in the many unique options for creative expression, learning, social clubs and support groups.

Loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health. In fact, research shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. One study states that social networks and friendships not only have an impact on reducing the risk of mortality or developing certain diseases, but they also help individuals to recover when they do fall ill. While aging is often associated with social isolation as spouses and friends pass away and children get busy in their own lives, Cummings Centre staff maintain that it doesn’t have to be that way. 

“We are well aware of the importance of social connections for older adults and we build opportunities into all of our programs,” says Program Manager Erica Botner. “We have a vast array of programs and I think anyone can find something that will interest them and a friend to share that interest. For the lifelong learners, we have lectures on global affairs, music and art appreciation, even brain training. For those who want to express themselves creatively, we have a Rock ‘n Soul choir, a band, writing classes, theatre and a fine art and craft facility. We even have a virtual learning program so that people who are not able to get to the centre, can stay connected with the Cummings and other members from their home.”

Botner recalls receiving a call about three years ago when a travel club was in development. It was from the daughter of Marilyn Wasserman, a long-time member. 

“She said that her mom was a caregiver for her husband,” Botner notes. “She was looking for something to get her out of the house and around other people. I called Marilyn and invited her to join the Travel Club Committee. She, along with 10 other inspiring women, meet monthly to plan exciting trips and outings for Cummings Centre members. Marilyn has attended every meeting, and every trip, and now has a group of friends that enjoy spending time together, at and outside the centre. Her husband recently passed away and she has continued to be a part of the committee where she has a sense of belonging and contributing to a community. 

Marilyn states that because of the travel club she has a lot of new friends. “I am excited to go on the trips, and I just want to help because that’s who I am,” she said.

Lynn Gordon, who oversees the volunteer department, tells the story about two women who have become friends after meeting at the centre.

“They are both widows,” she recalls. “Amy reached out to Hildy after seeing Hildy’s photo and story in our guide where she talked about how important it was for her to have the Cummings Centre to come to after her husband died. The staff hooked the two women together and Hildy reached out to Amy, helped her through the difficult transition after her husband died and over time they became friends. Amy invited Hildy to join her for two weeks in Florida and they are presently there enjoying each other’s company and having fun together.

To get involved call 514-343-3510, drop by 5700 Westbury Avenue or log on to cummingscentre.org

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